City staff presents architects’ vision for downtown Santa Barbara
Nearly 5,000 residents of the Santa Barbara area took a survey, and around 84% of them said they want to see a permanent State Street promenade.
And the Santa Barbara Chapter of American Institute of Architects listened.
In a special meeting of the Santa Barbara City Council on Thursday, the AIA presented more than 250 pages of creative and visionary design work for the entire downtown area and State Street, from Cabrillo Boulevard to Sola Street.
Four design teams studied and addressed housing and supportive public open spaces; circulation for walking, biking, automobile, transit and parade routes; recreational activities; and stormwater management.
They provided recommendations for public parks, paseos, plazas, public art, housing, a downtown master plan, a foundation to support development and public-private partnerships.
Some suggestions included: encouraging local visual and performing arts in the public realm; streamlining the approval process for art in public places; designating all rental housing projects in the Central Business District as community benefit projects (without the need for special consideration or findings); creating an adaptive reuse ordinance; facilitating an alliance network of public-private partnerships to redevelop existing city parking lots and other city-owned properties to multi-housing and mixed-use developments; and creating a foundation entity to raise funds for capital improvements.
The city council directed staff to explore forming a foundation with a variety of funding and operation models, integrate housing data in the development of policy amendments and explore the potential benefits and steps to create a stormwater assessment district to incentivize and facilitate adaptive reuse.
Public commenters throughout the meeting spoke on behalf of community organizations and nonprofits, and most, if not all, supported the ideas of the AIA listed in the presentation.
“If we’re going to have a vibrant, livable downtown corridor, we need inclusive housing across the income spectrum,” Rob Fredericks, executive director of the Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara, said in public comment. “We really need to think about coming up with other funding mechanisms for that housing that can keep rent in an affordable range for people.”
Alice Post, founding member of Coalition for Neighborhood Schools, said she believes there’s a “great need in our city for a neighborhood school in the downtown area,” and that increased housing downtown will exacerbate the need for it.
Kim Cochran expressed the importance of making room for public art.
“Art should not be an afterthought, but incorporated into the overall vision,” she said.
Michael Holiday, a member of AIA, said that he thinks the “national retail revolution” provides an opportunity for the city to be “bold, progressive and open.”
Barry Remus, with the Coalition for Sustainable Transportation, said that he supports the charrette and the formulation of a downtown master revitalization plan.
Overall, the council, staff, AIA and meeting participants all seemed to support increasing affordable housing downtown.
City staff proposed transforming large retail buildings and adapting them for housing or recreation, such as the former Nordstorm’s in the mall, the Paseo Nuevo parking structure or the transit center. They also recommended flexible building forms, such as U-shaped structures, squares with center courtyards and rectangles or pairs of rectangles with three to four residential floors, which they said supports feasibility.
The charrette suggested a variety in the size of residences, from micro units to studios and one- and two-bedroom units.
“There’s some immediacy in my mind to aggressively attacking, in particular, city flagged parking lots… They’re just screaming for an opportunity to do something with them other than what they are now,” Council member Mike Jordan said, referencing the vacant lot at Carrillo and Bath streets next the Goodwill. “There has to be a way to incentivize or bring a place like that to the table that could benefit us all.”
He also mentioned the vacant property in the 400 block of State Street.
“Twenty years of an empty shell of a parcel at the entrance to our historical district, in my opinion, shouldn’t be allowed to happen,” he said.
Staff also brought to light the fact that many office buildings won’t be filled up again with the transition to working remotely.
“It really comes down to a combination of resources and political will,” Mr. Jordan said. “What we don’t do now charts and puts in place and can’t change the next five to 10 years. We have to start now, because what we do or don’t do will affect, limit or reward us in the next five or 10 years.”
Council member Meagan Harmon, a member of the State Street Subcommittee and whose district the downtown core lies in, said it’s incumbent on the council to think about funding.
“I think we all are sort of feeling the weight of this moment and the import of the year to come and all the decisions we’re going to make for our city and the consequential nature of this time we’re in,” she said. “We have an opportunity now to really enact transformational change that will influence the future of our city for generations to come.”
The AIA’s 2020 Design Charrette is available on the city’s website, www.santabarbaraca.gov.